Every year when I fill out Down Beat magazine’s critics poll ballot, I have a hard time coming up with three nominations for the best male vocalist category: Andy Bey is blessed with such flawless intonation, breath control, and artistry that all other competitors seem unworthy, and on each recording since his 1996 comeback album, Ballads, Blues & Bey, he’s confirmed his place as one of the world’s greatest jazz singers. While he’s dabbled with–and triumphantly nailed–unlikely material like Sting’s “Fragile” and Nick Drake’s “River Man” on recent CDs, his latest and best album, American Song (Savoy Jazz), is a virtual clinic on revitalizing hoary old chestnuts. Bey sings with exquisite restraint, and his warm baritone fills the words of Ellington’s “Prelude to a Kiss” with subtle twists that allow the lyrics to better resonate; a subtle rise in pitch on “nothing” in the phrase “nothing fancy, nothing much” ripples with electric sincerity, and a slightly gruff hum ends the song with a sensual exclamation mark. On “Speak Low” and “Caravan,” he trades the usual plushness for granite precision without surrendering the abundant humanity in his tone. For this engagement Bey accompanies himself on piano, supported by guitarist Paul Meyers and bassist Kiyoshi Kitagawa, who also play on the album, and drummer Jeremy Clemons. Fri 12/31, 10 PM, HotHouse, 31 E. Balbo, 312-362-9707, $75. See also Saturday.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Michael Jackson.